Daniel Dopler’s Choice
A Reverse Engineering Case Study
In Computer Ethics
Daniel Dopler came to America with his parents twelve years ago. They have worked
hard in their struggle as a family to survive. Dan is now a new graduate of a computing
science program from a local state university. He has a new wife and baby and is eager
to get on with his career in computing. Dan has recently been hired by a small new
consulting firm, J. T. Anderson and Co., that is eager to expand the help it can offer its
clients by having employees who are constantly upgrading their credentials, learning new
programs, learning to solve more and more unusual problems, and gaining greater
credibility with more and more credentials. Dan’s company executives have let him
know that pay and promotion is tied to successfully acquiring new skills and credentials.
To this end Daniel is getting ready to take an IT Certificate program called “Network+”
provided by COMPtia Inc. There are several different software learning programs
available on the internet by which to prepare for this particular exam. Among the
materials available, Boson and Transcender’s preparation software is considered to be the
best; and it is rumored that most of their prep questions come from original past exams;
some say, even from the upcoming exam.
The B and T product can easily be downloaded but when you try to open the actual
software you find out that you only have access to a demo of the product, and that to use
the entire product you need to have a 12 digit key which can only be purchased on line
from the product maker. But there is a way out, Daniel suspects.
Anyone who knows can download or purchase programs that enable you to break the
point where the software asks you for the password. These are called “cracking
These cracking software actually lets you see dll files (dynamic link library files) and
how the software was made. These programs can be used to “reverse engineer” a
product. But there are risks.
First, to buy these products you have to register on the producer’s web site; this is
considered by some to be a risk because the product maker may share your information
with the exam provider (in this case, COMPtia). Secondly, it costs a lot of money to
register for the exam.
Therefore the temptation to just download the software and the cracking program and
then start running the software until you are asked to enter the 12 digit password. At this
point, open the cracker program and observe the codes that show how the software was
built – codes such as “launch the company logo” then “welcome logo” then “option to
run demo or full version” of the product. Here you would just scroll down and find the
line where you are asked to “enter password” (or you can simply save the password so
you can enter it whenever you are asked for it).
Test preparation software is designed to force you to learn and not just to cram through to
the final questions (which look a lot like the questions on the real certification exam).
The learning program takes you through levels of difficulty, teaching concepts and
procedures that are the building blocks of general understanding of the subject matter.
This learning process is meant to enable the test taker to succeed on the final exam out of
their true understanding rather than from simple memorization.
Given the pressures Daniel is under and his ability to crack the test, he wonders what he
should do? He knows everyone else is doing it; if he doesn’t crack the code and quickly
get on with passing the test, other will do so anyway and he will loss advantage to them.
Besides, he muses, his cracking the code will show his superior skills better than passing
the certifying exam. Also, he sincerely believes that education should be free; COMPtia
is charging way too much for its learning materials (it’s a rip-off); and they may be using
the past exams without permission (at least that is what a colleague told him).
Should Daniel crack the code or pay for the service?